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Recipes, BBQ & Other 


Tamales (and tacos, enchiladas and burritos) with BBQ meat


By DAN CANNON, 29-April-2002


AGUA DULCE, California -- Leftover barbecue meat makes great tamales, tacos, burritos and enchiladas.  The following explanation specifically concerns tamales.  However, a slight variation in the recipe will change the meat mixture's moisture content and texture for tacos, enchiladas and burritos.



Tamales are a wonderful food of Mexico.  They consist of a filling -- any combination of meat, cheese, or vegetables -- covered with masa (a Mexican corn dough), wrapped inside a corn husk, and then steamed.

Tamales are prepared in different ways throughout Mexico.  In central Mexico, tamales are thick and fluffy, with lots of masa and filling.  In the north, tamales are thinner with more filling, and the filling is usually spicy with chile and cumin.

Making tamales is time-consuming but, like its relative, barbecue, the result is well-worth the time and effort.


Mexican ingredients

Most Mexican markets and even some good mainstream markets sell the same products and ingredients listed below.  Viarta Market is a local Mexican chain of markets in North Los Angeles County which stocks al the required ingredients.

Viarta Market also makes fresh tamales in their stores daily.  Visitors can watch through a window as experts assemble perfect tamales.  Visitors who have the opportunity to watch the process, take notes, and practice will be able to duplicate the experts' technique perfectly.  Viarta sells their fresh tamales for one dollar apiece.

All the quantities of meat mentioned here are leftovers, so they are already cooked!  Cooks should plan on using 3 pounds of leftover meat, which will make 12 tamales (which assumes about 4 ounces of meat per tamale).

Cooks should adjust the quantities of seasonings  for their individual tastes, and they can adapt the recipe for the equipment they are using.



The recipes use the following ingredients:

  • 3 pounds of leftover, cooked Pork Butt, Beef Brisket, or Chicken.

  • Two 7-ounce bottles of Pico Pica Taco Sauce, either mild, medium or hot, as preferred (alternatively use a good Chili Powder);

  • One 15 1/2-ounce can of chicken or beef stock (depending on the meat being used);

  • One 3-pound bag of pre-mixed masa (masa is corn-meal flour which is used to make corn tortillas;  the pre-mixed masa is much easier to work with than trying to make it from scratch);

  • 12 tamale corn husks (i.e. corn husks which have been cut and are sold specifically for tamales);

  • Farmer John Lard (avoid vegetable or other oils);  and

  • Kosher Salt.


The recipe requires the following equipment:

  • 15-inch pan;

  • Wire potato masher (use the wire type, not the flat, plate type);

  • Small sauce pan;

  • Large mixing bowl;

Prepare barbecue meat mixture

The first step is to prepare 3 pounds of cooked barbecue meat as follows:

  • Pork Butt:  slice or shred it into inch-wide slices or small chunks;

  • Beef Brisket:  slice it across the grain into very thick, inch-wide slices;  and

  • Chicken:  slice or shred it into inch-wide slices or small chunks.

Next, shred or crumble the meat into a large, 15 inch pan.

Add one 15 1/2-ounce can of chicken or beef stock (depending on the type of meat being used).

Add one 7-ounce bottle of Pico Pica Taco Sauce.  Alternatively, substitute between 5 and 7 tablespoons of chili powder.

Turn the fire on medium and stir well.  When the meat is well-heated, use the potato masher to mash the meat into obtain the preferred consistency and texture.  The consistency and texture is easy to vary and depends on how the meat is to be used:  in tamales, tacos, enchiladas or burritos.

Return the pan with the mixture to the fire, and continue cooking at a medium temperature until the liquid from the Pico Pica and the stock reduces to the desire moisture level.  The mixture can be made as moist or dry as desired.

The meat is now ready to use to make tamales, tacos, enchiladas or burritos.


Prepare corn masa

As noted above, pre-mixed masa is preferred, because it is too difficult and risky to attempt making it from scratch.  Pre-mixed masa in the 3- or 5-pound bag is guaranteed to be done perfectly.  Since pre-mixed masa is intended primarily to make corn tortillas, the following recipe enhances the masa for tamales.

First, put 6 tablespoons of lard into the small saucepan and place over low heat until it is melted but not very hot.  Melting the lard ensures that it will mix thoroughly in the masa.

Next, put 3 pounds of masa into the mixing bowl.

Then add the following ingredients to the masa, and mix them in by hand:

  • 2 Tablespoons of baking powder;

  • 6 Tablespoons of the melted lard;

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of Kosher salt, to taste;  and

  • 6 to 10 tablespoons of Pico Pica Taco Sauce (alternatively, substitute chili powder).

Taste it raw and season to taste.


Prepare corn husks

The number of corn husks to prepare depends on the quantity of the meat used.  In general, 3 pounds of meat (48 ounces) will make 12 tamales, with each tamale having about 4 ounces of the meat mixture.  

Put 10 cups of water into a large pot and bring it to a brisk boil.  Then put in the corn husks, and keep the corn husks under the water with a plate or lid that has a smaller diameter than the pot.  Cook the husks at a low boil for 30 minutes, until they are soft.

Remove the husks from the water and let them drain, so that they are still wet but not dripping.


Assemble tamales

Tamales are assembled in four simple steps, and practice will improve them.

First, lay one corn husk on the board.

Second, roll take a small handful (about 3 ounces) of the masa and flatten it on the top of the corn husk.  Spread the masa evenly over the entire surface of the corn husk.

Third, take a small handful (about 4 ounces) of the meat mixture and lay it across the middle of the corn husk (as you might lay the meat in the middle of a taco).

Fourth, fold the tamale, as follows.  Fold the closest end to one-quarter of the tamale.  Then fold one inch from the left and one inch from the right, and tuck both edges rightly.  Then continue by folding up the tamale to the second and then third quarter, so that its shape is rectangular.

Fifth, across the edge where the tamale comes together, smear a small strip (about 3" wide) of masa across the width of the tamale along the edge.

Finally, lay a second corn husk on the board, and roll the tamale into the second corn husk, folding it as above.

Each tamale should be folded (not really rolled) into a tight rectangular shape about 5" wide, 2" long and 1" high.


Cook tamales

Tamales are cooked by steam.  Therefore, it is necessary to have a steamer or to fabricate a steamer by using a large pot (like a 22-quart aluminum stock pot), a metal colander that fits within the pot, and some sort of stand to support a strainer about 2" above the bottom of the pot.  In either case, the steamer is filled with 1" of water, which is brought to a medium simmer.  

Arrange the tamales on the inner holder.  Put a circle of tamales standing on end first around the outer edge, and then fill them towards the center.  Stack a second and third layer, as necessary.

When the water is simmering, put the holder with the tamales into the steamer.  Do not allow any of the tamales to touch the water. 

Cover the pan with a lid, but leave a space (some use a towel in between the lid and the pot) to allow steam to escape. 

Steam the tamales for 45 to 55 minutes to complete. You will start to smell the cooked Masa when they are ready.

Serve them hot.  Enjoy!



Tamales are delicious if reheated.  Place them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  Do not re-steam them.

Tamales may also be frozen and will be excellent when reheated:  put the frozen tamales in a casserole dish, cover it with foil, and heat in a 350 oven for 30 minutes, until the centers are hot.

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Revised: 06 Jan 2015 12:33 .

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